This is a day later than planned but I just wanted to mark this so called ‘Freedom Day’; my daughter Luna’s first day of life without Covid related legal restrictions. In reality, not much will change for us right now, but it is a big day for the country. We have friends whose businesses can reopen, musicians who can go back to work and, more generally, people should feel able to start taking some control back around how they choose to live. Sadly, I can already sense more division coming…
This momentous thing we’ve all been through is something that connects us all. We have seen that despite our differences, every human being on the planet can be affected by the same invisible, microscopic enemy, and all our lives radically changed over night. But when countries really work together, when lives become a priority over profit, when helping another also helps us too, we can get things done we never thought possible. (Imagine if the same level of global effort now turned to climate change…)
Of course the virus hasn’t gone just because people are calling it ‘Freedom Day’. We’ve developed a means to slow and reduce its impact, but I personally know healthy and vaccinated people who have caught and been ill with it, and the numbers suggest we’re not out of the woods yet. So with a baby and a clinically vulnerable partner, we will be continuing to reintegrate at a steady pace, but with respect for all those who are ready to get their lives back after following rules for so long. Fill up music venues again, dance, hug each other if that’s right for you. Of course I hope you try to do it as safely as you can and remain conscious of the risks to you and your more vulnerable friends and family members. Give space. Be patient. Take a test. Also try to remember people continuing to wear masks aren’t all sheep. People refusing the vaccine aren’t all selfish. We’re all handling this with our unique personal circumstances in mind and in the way our lives have conditioned us to interpret our situation.
If you are an anti-masker, anti-vaxxer or conspiracy theorist, then you’re still my fellow human. While I may disagree with you, I value your right to have a different view and make different choices to me, providing you’re not putting my loved ones or any unaware people at risk. We can stay in our lanes and still communicate with each other. If we’re ever going to bridge the gap then we have to, don’t we? Of course I’m not condoning the blatant sharing of misinformation or poorly researched theories as ‘truth’. But we get to choose if and how we respond to opposing views, and since when did insulting or belittling someone ever change their mind? All the impatience and anger just stops people from listening and learning from each other. I appreciate that fear manifests in many different ways, but seeing people taking pleasure in berating each other over their personal choices feels more dystopian to me than the pandemic itself.
Mainstream media and all the interlinked corporate and political interests muddy the waters of what ‘truth’ is ever really available to us and that is scary at the best of times, but it’s borderline abusive during a global catastrophe. At least right now, on an individual level, most of us have immediate access to the world’s information at our fingertips. We don’t have to listen to any single news source, we can do away with partisan news altogether if we choose and look to the qualified scientists. Even then, Bayesian reasoning will be needed to reach a consensus. One can always find anomalies that fit with our negativity bias or support our tendency for mistrust in the systems that govern us. Before accepting, and especially before sharing, we should at least be double checking sources. We should also pay particular attention to where the source’s ultimate interests lie, ruling out spurious or questionable information and trying to find what is the most likely and probable reality: the closest thing to truth available to us. Then we can apply that to our own personal circumstances, accepting that these differ wildly from others. We can use critical thinking to find our way, but can’t we also at least try to understand where someone with an alternative view is coming from and what led them there? We don’t have to be surprised or triggered that someone else’s path is different to ours, and we certainly shouldn’t need to force our own ways onto them.
Right now we must be extra vigilant to external forces affecting our behaviour towards each other. Despite enjoying some lost freedoms, we may still be contained by the language and labels given to us by those who wield power. As long as we see everything as a binary, we will forever remain divided. Why must the world be either locked down or free? People either good or bad, for or against, right or wrong? I’d like to call for some middle ground. I’m not talking about sitting on the fence either. I’m asking can we kick the fence down and sit somewhere we can talk to people on both sides? Somewhere we can be social, but at a distance we’re all comfortable with.